Song of the Week – Sweet Lucy & I Paint a Design, Michael Hurley


Michael Hurley has been making traditional American folk music since the mid 60s. So then, how is it possible that you (probably) never heard of him? Well that just ain’t right.

He’s 73 years old and has been putting out albums consistently from 1964 up to present day, mostly on small independent labels.

He was one of the three acts on the 1976 compilation album Have Moicy! that also included cuts by the Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Frederick & The Clamtones. This album has earned massive critical acclaim – most famously selected by the Village Voice’s music critic Robert Christgau as “the greatest folk album of the rock era.”

To be honest, I did not become familiar with the record back in the bicentennial year. In fact, I really can’t remember exactly when or how I finally got acquainted with it. But it is one of those records that you can listen to a thousand times and it never lets you down. A couple of the most popular songs on the album are “Midnight in Paris” and “Griselda.” But my favorite song, and one of today’s SotW, is “Sweet Lucy.” (And I swear that has nothing to do with the fact that I named my older daughter Lucy.)

It’s a funny story about a guy and his “old lady” (sorry for the anachronistic expression, but hey it’s 1976 remember) going on a bender.

In 1994 Hurley released his 13th album, Wolfways. That album contains today’s second SotW, “I Paint a Design.” It first appeared on Hurley’s 1988 album Watertower as a solo performance. But he decided to redo it with a full band on Wolfways and I like the newer version better.

Christgau weighed in again. This time he panned Wolfways, but awarded “I Paint a Design” his Choice Cut designation – defined as “a good song on an album that isn’t worth your time or money.” Kind of harsh on the album but the song does get into your head and won’t leave. The female background vocals kill it.

The song is used very effectively over the closing credits of Ray McKinnon’s Academy Award winning short film The Accountant (2001). It can be viewed in three parts on YouTube starting here:

Any of you under 30 years old might relate to the comparisons made between Hurley and Devendra Banhart. In fact Banhart is a fan and Hurley released two of his more recent albums on Banhart’s Gnomonsong label. Hurley’s songs have been recorded by several other more current acts that are also fans – Cat Power, Espers, Vetiver, and The Violent Femmes among them.

He does most of his own album cover artwork too. Check it out.

Enjoy… until next week.

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